FREDERICK HISTORIC PIANO COLLECTION
COMMENTARY ON THE FREDERICK PIANO COLLECTION
FROM PERFORMING MUSICIANS, MUSIC SCHOLARS, AND OTHERS MUSEUM CURATORS
The Historical Piano Study Center … constitutes
one of the world’s most significant sites for the study of over one hundred
years of piano manufacturing. During the period represented… virtually
all the major pre-20th century pianists and piano composers were exploring
the sounds offered by the pianos of their day … which bear only a vague
familial resemblance to the… instruments of today. In no other
American collection can one see and hear as many historically important
pianos under one roof. The Frederick Collection thus has immeasurable musical-historical
I myself have [made] repeated pilgrimages to the Frederick Collection.
It is a pleasure to write on behalf of the Frederick Historic Piano Collection. I have followed its remarkable growth over the past thirty years with great interest. … the collection fulfills an outstanding role not only by its assembly of fine pianos … but also, uniquely in this country, by making them readily available to … music lovers, performers, and scholars. … it is clear that the Frederick Collection can and does serve as the cultural centerpiece of Ashburnham.
I have known the Fredericks for over twenty years, and have long admired their dedication to collecting and restoring significant antique pianos, and to sharing these wonderful instruments with both researchers and the concert-going public. Few people would have the knowledge and energy to undertake what they have done … Their collection has been and continues to be an exceptionally valuable resource to the musical community, both locally and throughout the world, and I have noted the wide-spread coverage they have received in the press, from major newspapers to specialist periodicals.
I have personally visited the Fredericks’ collection at various times… and refer colleagues in my field to them on a regular basis. … the Frederick collection is unique in its composition, mission, and public programs.
I do a classical music program every weekday from 9 am to 1 pm on WFCR Public Radio, located at UMass Amherst, and broadcasting to over 150,000 listeners every week. … on Sunday [I] attended the concert I had recommended to others. … I heard two hours of music I will not soon forget, and which will surely draw me back for more. The musical selections were outstanding, as was the performer. But truth to tell, the star of the show was the piano itself, which produced one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard emerge from a contraption of keys, hammers and strings. The audience, nearly full … leapt to its feet at the conclusion in deep and sincere appreciation for what we had shared. … this rare instrument [is] only one of several in [the Fredericks’] collection, a priceless treasure-trove for musicians and scholars from around the world.
The Frederick Collection… is probably the
most meaningful and important piece of history I have ever personally encountered.
… I am a concert pianist and a Steinway Artist and have played many
concerts all over the world. I was the only American Laureate of the Sixth
Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.
When I encountered the beautiful and authentic pianos in the Frederick Collection, an entirely new paradigm opened up for me. The world of sound available on these early instruments is profoundly different from modern instruments. I was able to [achieve musical effects] impossible to do on a modern instrument … the sensitivity and infinite colors of the [Katholnig piano’s] soft sounds were amazingly beautiful… and the flamboyantly expressive qualities [of the Clementi piano] have a special sound all their own. To experience this sound world in person is completely different from reading about it … The Frederick Collection is a rare treasure… its importance to the world – and I mean the entire world – cannot be overstated.
Again I write with sincerest thanks for the opportunity to share your collection of instruments with piano students from Boston University. Our visit to your study center … was such a learning experience for the students. I hope you sensed their excitement and thrill when they heard the “new” sounds and felt for themselves the varieties of actions … Their animated discussions lasted all the way back to Boston, and throughout several class periods! I look forward to our next visit. What you provide for serious study of piano repertoire is profound and invaluable.
Professor and Chairman of the Collaborative Piano Department
Boston University College of Fine Arts
The Frederick Collection is unique on so many levels … a cultural entity that has national distinction in the scope and quality of its inventory. Collections of keyboard instruments are found more frequently in Europe, much less so in the United States; and here, mainly under the cultural umbrella of major organizations such as Yale University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian … Because this collection is second to none of the above, any serious music scholar / performer or student group must consider visiting [it] to actually experience it. … In encouraging hands-on access to play or hear instruments, the Frederick collection is extraordinary, and largely beyond comparison to the offerings of the institutions mentioned above.
I had heard about [the Frederick] collection for years from other Boston musicians and finally made the time to take the tour … It was fascinating and very informative, but the most important aspect was that I was able to actually play the instruments. There are small collections of historic pianos at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but they are not accessible for musicians to play. Playing these instruments totally changed my thinking about playing piano repertoire from Haydn to Debussy. I have told many other interested pianists and early music performers about the collection.
Past President and Current Membership Chair, New England Piano Teachers Ass’n.
Thank you for giving us such an enjoyable and informative visit to your Piano Collection … Your passion and dedication to the preservation of these pianos and your mission to make them accessible to pianists has created an invaluable resource for the study of the piano repertoire … As [historic] pianos become scarce through neglect or misuse, the true sound of what the composers were writing for is becoming lost to the sound of the modern day piano. The real understanding and interpretation of the composers’ music becomes crystal clear… on the appropriate pianos in each composer’s life. A visit (several visits) to your Study Center should be a requirement for every serious pianist and musician. … We’ll tell others about your Collection and Study Center and we’ll be back to learn more!
Emily and Ed Hilbert
Registered Piano Technicians
Thank you again for a semi-ecstatic experience practicing on the Blüthner Sunday all alone in the study center. Because I am usually visiting with a group of students or rehearsing with colleagues, this was a special time of free exploration of that piano. And it taught me a lot-- things that one already "knows", such as how the architecture (of especially Debussy and Rachmaninoff) is guided by the bass line, and to pedal the bass fearlessly, but this knowledge is so deepened and refreshed by this instrument! Also, there are inexplicable integrations of sound-color and balance which, once experienced, make a modern piano bland and gross by comparison.
I was glad, too, that I got to hear much of the Orfeo concert, which was wonderful. The Mendelssohn 4-hands was marvelously lyrical and well-balanced, the cello/piano Song Without Words was 'in the zone,' and the Schumann Gesänge well-played, with an understanding of the waves of color.
[From pianist Elaine Greenfield, the day after her Historical Piano Concerts recital of Schumann Lieder and piano solos, with soprano Jill Hallett Levis. Miss Greenfield played the 1846 Streicher piano from the Frederick Collection in her fourth concert on this series, her first with this piano.]
Jill and I loved the experience and talked
about it all the way home.
Papillons was SO SPECIAL on that instrument.
When I arrived home I sat down to play my Steinway; there was something I learned from playing the Streicher that has affected my whole approach, with all music, and it will have a lasting effect. It is a different way of listening which has an immediate effect upon use of motion. In some ways I feel like a different pianist.
Many thanks and much love,
So. Burlington, VT
...one of the best experiences to happen to us in a long time. We are enormously impressed by your collection, your care of it, and your great knowledge of the subject... It's obvious we need several more trips in order to get to know your pianos even better.
I have known Mike Frederick since 1983, and greatly admire the work he and his wife have accomplished in collecting and restoring fine pianos of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and making them available not only for public concerts, but also for private study and examination by performers and scholars. Such a large group of well-preserved pianos from the instrument's most active period of musical and technical development, many of which are still in playable condition, is without precedence in this country.
(In a letter to the Fredericks) Your collection has presently become one of the prime keyboard collections in the world, and one which not only residents of the United States but many from abroad enjoy seeing and hearing. The charming town of Ashburnham has gained considerably in stature as a result of your contributions. You have... been able to attract excellent renowned performers for your concerts...
As a pianist who actively concertizes on historic pianos as well as Steinways I am keenly aware of the treasures to be found in the Fredericks' collection. It would be a decision of artistic vision and wisdom to relocate the instruments to the Library and I am writing to lend the strongest support for this project and the relatively modest funds that would be necessary...
Michael and Patricia Frederick's dedication to the collecting and restoration of historical pianos is legendary by now; they have for years generously opened their home to professional musicians for tours, for study, and for experimental performance and research. ...the Fredericks' collection remains perhaps the most important in the nation today for historical study. ... From everything I have seen, Patricia Frederick has been very effective in managing the "Historical Piano Concerts" series, and, given her background in education, publicity, fund-raising, and collection maintenance, will offer expert oversight for this venture.
I am writing in enthusiastic support of the proposal, which has come to my attention, to move the Frederick Collection of historical pianos to the former Stevens Public Library Building in Ashburnham. This strikes me as an absolutely outstanding idea.
The Frederick Collection is a unique and impressive cultural asset and resource containing instruments of inestimable historical value and significance. The Fredericks have been uncommonly generous in making their instruments available to all interested and qualified parties for the purpose of study and performance.
(From a letter to the Fredericks) It is really time that your collection (and it is fabulous, may I say, having seen it and played some of the instruments) be more widely available to the public. ... That your pianos, those from the earliest days of the instrument to mature examples from this century, will have some availability to pianists and scholars is marvelous news; I know of no other such resource. This is the real value, to me, of your collection: your skill at restoration is able to teach us the most when we play the instruments, see how they sound, are able to use them in recitals. Your efforts in this direction (concert series, etc.) have been highly successful to this point, but this new building will, I think, enable you to move to a whole new level.
When I first played Brahms on the Fredericks' Streichers, the pianos responded so naturally to my touch that I was stunned. ... And the discovery that I could phrase Brahms's piano music vocally, as he intended, was inspirational.
... they represent the very best examples of European piano manufacture from the 18th through the 19th centuries. ... even more important, they are in beautiful playing condition. Quite simply, Michael and Patricia Frederick have assembled through careful purchase and astute restoration a world-class collection of important historic keyboard instruments.
The Frederick Collection of Historical Pianos is a national treasure. It should be maintained and cherished without reservation. I know of no comparable collection in the United States; it rivals any collection in Europe. ...I have played concerts throughout the United States and Europe, and I must say that some of my most thrilling experiences have been the concerts where I have performed on pianos from the Frederick Collection. ... Not only could I interpret more fully what I believe the composer intended, but also I was able to achieve nuances and colors... which Beethoven himself had known.
These instruments are valuable not only for concerts, but also (and especially) for performers and scholars... who can gradually learn, by spending time playing the appropriate instruments, about aspects of musical texture and construction perhaps impossible to ascertain in any other way. ... I have given three public performances on their pianos (each time on a different one). ... I have each time come away with new ideas about how best to play this music on the modern instruments that I usually play.
It is this hands-on aspect... which brings the development of the piano from the pages of the textbook and makes it a vivid experience. To have this resource in our own country is an opportunity not to be missed. ... I have studied at three major music schools and lived, worked and performed in both the United States and Europe, but consider my visits to this collection as one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.
The Collection is a valuable resource to all who seriously hope to understand the development of pianos and piano music ... Students who have visited the Collection continue to remark on its importance and usefulness to them...
Each piano has a unique sound, touch and mechanism associated with a certain maker of a particular country and period. The collection is a unique treasure of potentially national significance, an invaluable resource for any serious pianist, musician and scholar, providing a rare opportunity to get to know the prime sources of sound the great composers worked with.
Their collection is a veritable catalogue of Romantic era piano making. London, Vienna and Paris, the three major centers of European piano building in the 1800s, are represented, as are virtually all the most illustrious manufacturers of the age, including Graf, Streicher, Erard, Pleyel and Bösendorfer. ... Most of the dozen or so pianos in the main house are in fine playing condition, and some are splendid indeed. ...This bountiful collection adds another dimension to one's understanding of Romantic pianism and is an indispensable ingredient in enriching one's approach to the entire era.
My students have been transformed by their encounters with the pianos, audience members who have never heard before the proper balance of, say, a Brahms trio are electrified. In short, more people should know about this collection.
MUSICIANS OTHER THAN PIANISTS
As a professional singer and scholar of German art song, I have had the good fortune of performing in four different venues utilizing some of the finest instruments from this collection. In each instance, the use of one of the collection's instruments provided me with a unique opportunity to investigate the greatest music from the eras when the instruments were built. The concerts delighted audience members, many of whom were experiencing this sort of historical "authenticity" for the very first time. ...Personally, this investigation was revelatory. I have worked previously and since with other historic instruments, but I have found the experience of working with the Frederick pianos to be the most edifying.
It was a revelation to me, as a violinist, to play Brahms sonatas with an instrument similar to Brahms' own piano and to play the Franck sonata with an instrument that does not gobble up the violin. ... The clarity of articulation of these instruments teaches a lot about performance practice and instrumental balance.
The Frederick Collection of Historic Pianos is arguably among the world's finest resources for the study of the history and interpretation of piano music in particular and chamber music in general. ... the sound, feel and look of these instruments is vital, not only to music historians, but to all pianists, instrumentalists, conductors, singers, instrument builders and restorers, critics, teachers, and students who wish to better understand the musical world of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Fauré, Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Gottschalk.
On a Symposium, Erard Versus Steinway at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, October 1981, in which an 1856 Erard grand piano from the Frederick Collection was compared with the College's modern Steinway:
... it became clear that each player was hearing, on the Erard, composers' intentions that were hidden by the Steinway, and the question then became: How to find a keyboard technique to approximate on the Steinway what they could hear on the Erard? ... So the discussion continued, through a question and answer period, into a reception, and was still going, hammer and tongs, at midnight.
A Fine Resource ... I doubt whether anyone left the symposium without a feeling that some long-familiar pieces had been met at last on their "home ground", had been seen at last in their true colors, and had revealed new aspects of their characters in the encounter; or without thoughts that will color the way he next plays or listens. Records are revealing, live experiences even more so.
Reviews of a lieder recital at the Longy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Margo Garrett, accompanist; 1828/29 Conrad Graf piano from the Frederick Collection:
Ostensibly, this recital was something of an experiment, an edifying demonstration of what happens when you perform some early Romantic lieder with the help of a period instrument. What it was in fact was one of the most successful recitals of the season, a sweetly and quietly stunning musical evening whose success on a number of different levels was very nearly perfect. ... pianist Margo Garrett, an experienced accompanist... was clearly enjoying her first public appearance at a fortepiano. and what a gem this particular instrument is: a circa 1828 Graf, subtle and impeccably mannered yet full of color and character, from the collection of E.M. Frederick of Ashburnham. Schumann's overpoweringly poignant cycle "Frauenliebe und Leben" ... was breathtaking: stately and intimate, rewarding of the closest attention, reluctant to let a single touching detail go by without making its effect .... We could all stand to hear much more from these two - or, to include the Graf, three. If Boston is fortunate, the present series of four "historic piano" concerts will be only a prelude.
...(Soprano Dawn Upshaw's) latest Boston recital (was) with pianist Margo Garrett playing a magnificent 1828 Viennese grand built by Conrad Graf... she played with (not against) the marvelously rippling, dark-voiced, richly timbred instrument (a wonderful foil and underpinning for Upshaw's lightness) and effortlessly wrung all the color and wit and pathos, all the poetry, out of the music.
At the end of their recital... soprano Dawn Upshaw and her collaborator, pianist Margo Garrett, stepped aside and applauded the piano, an instrument made by Conrad Graf in Vienna around 1828. This was their gracious way of acknowledging the instrument's considerable contribution to the pleasures of the evening. Lent from the E.M. Frederick Collection in Ashburnham, the Graf altered the sound of familiar music, its gestures and the relationships between singer and accompanist. The timbre of the piano was both sweet and full, and it was particularly delightful in the accompaniments to four Schubert songs - fresh as the petals of a rose - and in the Mendelssohnian scamperings of "Neue Liebe" and "Hexenlied". Margo Garrett could play the Graf full out, which she could never dare in collaboration with a singer of Upshaw's delicate art using a modern instrument, and this changed the whole sense of the accompaniments.
(Review of a chamber ensemble concert at Longy School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Daniel Stepner, Violin; Karen Kaderavek, cello; and Lois Shapiro playing the c.1830 Stodart grand piano from the Frederick Collection:)
... Shapiro's instrument was an 1830 Stodart which "spoke" with an attractive clarity and quickness, but also managed a decent heft and substance when required. It never clouded or dominated the ensemble sonority. The news was that the piano is a chamber-music instrument.
LETTERS FROM INTERESTED MEMBERS OF GENERAL PUBLIC
We have had the pleasure of spending a
delightful afternoon visiting the Frederick collection. ... It is fascinating
to hear the compositions of the Romantic and Classical periods on instruments
that represent the music as the composers intended. The Fredericks make
the collection available for a concert series which not only appeals to
those interested in the esoteric elements of the performances, but also
to those seeking a lovely musical afternoon. Distinguished performers at
the international level welcome the opportunity to visit and perform in
Ashburnham. These concerts enhance the cultural climate of the community.
We believe the Frederick Collection should be recognized as a national
treasure of historical, technical, artistic and cultural value.
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